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Tracey Emin - Biography

Tracey Emin, Ph.D., was born in Croydon, England on July 3, 1963. She was a Professor of Confessional Art at the European Graduate School (EGS) where she gave a guest lecture. A London-based artist, Tracey Emin has been recognized as one of the leading figures of the YBA (Young British Artists) in the 1990s. She graduated in fine arts from the Maidstone College of Art in 1986, and was awarded an MA in painting by the Royal College of Art in 1989. Tracey Emin also studied modern philosophy in London and was on the short list for the Turner Prize in 1999. She has exhibited extensively internationally, with solo shows at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Modern Art Oxford, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul, and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Tracey Emin represented Britain at the 52nd Venice Biennial in 2007. In the same year, she was made a Royal Academician and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal College of Art, London, a Doctor of Philosophy from London Metropolitan University and Doctor of Letters from the University of Kent.

Tracey Emin's works are known for their immediacy, raw openness and often sexually provocative attitude which fascinates the viewer. Her art is deeply confessional and she herself has become the embodiment of the artist as a maverick, even outsider celebrity, constantly infuriating the art world and provoking the British class system with her open working-class attitude. Named by David Bowie to be 'William Blake as a woman, written by Mike Leigh', her public persona is loud, dangerous and unpredictable, but at the same time radiates a deeply emotional and vulnerable side. Her controlled exhibition of the self takes a form in exceptionally wide range of media – from appliquéd blankets and sewing, to neons, videos, super-8 films, photographs, animations, watercolors, sculptures, installations, and intensely personal paintings and drawings. One of the aspects of Tracey Emin's work unfairly receiving little attention is her writing – here, she pushes the borders between writing as visual art and visual art as a text, forcing us to rethink the status of both.

Roberta Smith of The New Yorker says the following about Tracey’s work:

If Tracey Emin could sing, she might be Judy Garland, a bundle of irresistible, pathetic, ferocious, self-indulgent, brilliant energy. Since she can't, or doesn't, she writes, incorporating autobiographical texts and statements into drawings, monoprints, watercolors, collages, quilts, neon sculptures, installations and videotapes. In her art she tells all, all the truths, both awful and wonderful, but mostly awful, about her life. Physical and psychic pain in the form of rejection, incest, rape, abortion and sex with strangers figure in this tale, as do love, passion and joy.

After a difficult childhood, Tracey Emin squatted in London after dropping out of school at thirteen. This period of her life provided a strong inspiration for much of her later work. She studied art in Essex and London, deciding to destroy all her work after a traumatic abortion in 1989. She began working only several years later, reworking her past by producing confessional letters and combining them with mementos from her youth. Tracey Emin presented this material at her first solo exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in London in 1993, provocatively entitled 'My Major Retrospective'. The show told her intense life story mostly set in Margate, the place where she grew up, containing a disturbing streak of sexual abjection, but at the same time presented with passion and strong irony.

The piece Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95 brought Tracey Emin to fame. The peice is a now infamous embroidered tent with the appliquéd names of 102 people she had ever slept with, including friends, family, lovers, drinking partners and two numbered fetuses. This work was owned by Charles Saatchi and was destroyed in Momart London warehouse fire in 2004. Emin's next art work that raised attention was My Bed, shown at Tate Gallery as one of the shortlisted works for the Turner prize in 1999. Here, she exhibited her own bed covered with objects and traces of her struggle with depression during relationship difficulties, generating strong media attention due to the presence of bodily fluids on the sheets, as well as many everyday objects such as used condoms, empty bottles and slippers on the floor.

Tracey Emin can be considered one of the few artists able to reveal the intimate details of their life in an extremely powerful and honest way. The predominant subjects in her art are violent sex, motherhood, abortion, her hometown, family, lack of schooling, sexual past, as well as her affinity to alcohol. Tracey Emin's art presents the world of her hopes, failures, success and humiliations that contains both tragic and humorous elements. Nevertheless, her storytelling in various forms has the ability to avoid sentimentality and establishes an intimate connection with the viewers, engaging them with the unrestricted exploration of universal emotions. The power of Tracey Emin's art is in the ability to reveal the world in ways we have always known about but never admitted, exposing her own struggle to reach herself, to deconstruct her own celebrity status and her never-ending search for the strength needed to start all over again. Tracey Emin wrote a column for The Independent from 2008 - 2009 where many details of her unique life experience can be discerned. She also wrote the autobiographical book, Strangeland.

Tracey Emin is the author of numerous books including: Those Who Suffer Love. (White Cube. 2009.), Monoprint Diaries. (White Cube. 2009.), One Thousand Drawings. (Rizzoli. July 28, 2009.), You Left Me Breathing. (Gagosian. January 1, 2008.), Borrowed Light. (British Council. August 2007.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006. (Rizolli. 2006.), I Can Feel Your Smile. (Lehmann Maupin. 2005.), Strangeland. (Sceptre. October 17, 2005.), Details of Depression. (Counter Editions. 2003.), This is Another Place. (Oxford Museum of Modern Art. November 2002.), Tracey Emin. (Booth-Clibborn. September 26, 2002.), Jay Joplin Galllery. (Galgiani. September 1998.), Exploration Of The Soul. (1994.) and Six Turkish Tales. (Hangman Books. December 1987.).

Tracey Emin has also created the following films: Tracey Emin. (Illuminations. 2003.), Top Spot. (TV, Revolution Films. 2004.), Sometimes the Dress Is Worth More Money Than the Money. (ICA. 2001), CV Cunt Vernacular. (Tate, 1997). She also acted in the film, Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon. (BBC. 1998.) and was the set decorator in Wavelengths. (Channel 4 Television Corporation. 1997.).

Tracey Emin was a Professor of Confessional Art at the European Graduate School where she conducted a summer workshop.